George Pyle: Dreaming of South by Southwest by Salt Lake City

That was the problem with the decision of the Outdoor Retailers Association to pull it’s twice-annual trade show out of Salt Lake City as its gasoline, nitroglycerin, gunpowder and uranium method of protesting the state of Utah’s unfortunate habit of opposing federal protection of the very public land treasures that had always been the golden goose of their business.

They threatened for years to pull up stakes if the state didn’t stop its moves to take millions of acres of public lands away from the American people. The fact that so many elected officials were apoplectic at the creation by President Obama of the Bears Ears National Monument was the last straw.

You can only make threats like that for so long before you either have to follow through or quit pretending. Finally, a few months ago, the ski, hike, bike and boat folks struck the match and floated up to Heaven. Or Denver.

The move cost Salt Lake City — a burg where most people who care at all one way or the other probably agree with the ORA — an estimated $45 million a year.

But they could only do it once. Now the organization’s influence here is dust.

Salt Lake City, though, may have another chance.

Down in Austin, Texas, the state has a new law that not only commands local law enforcement departments to find, hold and turn over people who are in the country without papers, it makes it a crime for sheriffs and police chiefs to do anything else.

The main target of the bill, known locally at SB4, is right there in Austin. The city is not only the capital, it is also the home of the main campus of the state university system, as well as a center of arts and culture and, once you set foot outside of its Texas-sized Capitol building, home to a population that is clearly much more liberal than the rest of the state.

One big difference between Utah and Texas, other than the amount of alcohol to be found there, is that our Republicans are not generally so hostile to immigrants — legal or otherwise — as their Republicans are these days. Going back to 2010, with the signing of The Utah Compact by a long list of political, business and religious leaders, the state founded by 19th century refugees has made it a point to be friendly to 21st century migrants.

In Utah, police officers who live in dread of being drafted into being immigration agents are the norm. They know that it is not only beyond their capacity, it will wreck their relations with immigrant communities and make it all but impossible to enforce the law in those neighborhoods. In Texas, apparently, such a view is identified with law enforcement officers in Austin.

Now, in response to the new Texas law, there is a burbling move to pull an ORA in Austin. But the target isn’t guys who sell fishing lures and camp stoves. It’s the massive film, music, politics and technology party known as South by Southwest — SXSW to its friends.

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And it has a lot of friends. The multi-media, high-tech, TED-talky Sundance on Steroids pulls an estimated $325 million into the local economy every year.

The folks who run SXSW oppose Texas’ SB4. But, so far, they are promising, like Jim Bowie at the Alamo, to stand and fight rather than cut and run.

But the move to pull the ORA out of Salt Lake City took years to bear fruit. And the campaign to lodge a similar complaint against Texas by moving SXSW out of Austin, to, say Las Vegas, or Denver, or, dare we say it, Salt Lake City may keep building for a while.

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